Clever Combinations

Stimulate sales with creative cross-merchandising.
by : 

Kim Perkins

February 1, 2013
Clever Combinations

You see it all the time at the grocery store: instead of a simple floral display for Valentine’s Day, boxes of chocolate are placed in and around the bouquets, creating a need for both. If the chocolates are shelved only in the candy section, they might be overlooked or forgotten. Or you might see shampoo and conditioner displayed with combs and hairbrushes, or boxes of artisan crackers presented with a variety of imported cheese. The idea is classic cross-merchandising: motivating the customer to “cross over” and purchase related products.

Another way to do this more artfully is to display seemingly unrelated merchandise together to create a visual story: candles with bath salts, relaxation CDs with yoga mats, coffee mugs with journals. This type of merchandising casts a wider net and educates your customer about products they might not even know you offer.

From an aesthetic point of view, cross-merchandising improves your customers’ shopping experience and adds to the overall image and impression of your store. Customers return again and again to stores with creative and appealing displays, and they enjoy groupings that save them time and brain space.

Cross-merchandising encourages your customers to think outside the box when they shop. Busy customers appreciate when merchandise is presented in a way that provides easy solutions to their shopping dilemmas. It is particularly useful when you consider that the average customer views a shelf for only a mere second! A pleasing product vignette is an essential extension of your sales team: it has the power to tell a story at a glance that in an instant can move your customers from browse to buy.

We can take some cues from retail chains that pay visual merchandisers hefty sums of money to create beautiful displays. One memorable Williams-Sonoma display featured an eye-catching graphic of large bushels of berries that served as a backdrop for a decorative pie plate, measuring spoons, a pastry board, striped towels, and a food processor. Their collection made it easy for customers to get everything they needed to make great pies from one store. Similarly, if you walk into a Pottery Barn, you might see wicker patio furniture displayed with hanging lanterns, outdoor dinnerware, and comfy cushions. All you need is a bottle of wine, a few friends, and voilà—you have everything you need for a fun, relaxing evening outdoors. The idea is to inspire your customers and give them everything they need to realize that inspiration.

When I asked my business partner Lea Semple how she creates such great displays, she revealed one of her secrets is the use of vibrant color. She routinely pairs merchandise in colors that “pop.” As long as the cross-marketed merchandise is not radically different, she explains, “customers may purchase more than one item because they blend well together and make a great presentation as a gift.”

“You can also arrange candles of certain color families beside and around other gift merchandise,” she added, “to give a shelf more texture and create a more interesting venue. This will sell the product faster because customers see merchandise that they would never have put together on their own.”

Looking for a way to increase your book sales? Try showcasing them with complementary gift items. The books you choose have to look good, blending colors and textures that are visually appealing. Books and gift items with matching content work well too, such as books on reflexology displayed with massage oils or books on attracting money paired with prosperity candles. An attractive display increases the likelihood that your customers will buy several products, even if they came in looking for just one. In our store, books placed in gift displays outsell the same title in the book section more than four times over! Taking extra time to search for just the right match is indeed worth the effort.

If you already purchase books from distributors or publishers, peruse their catalogs and websites. For me, it’s better to see a book in person. Visit a chain bookstore for ideas—it’s okay, I won’t tell! If you find a book you’d like to carry, write down the publisher information and contact them directly. They might very well have a rep who will visit you or a website you can browse.

If your store inventory is primarily gifts, ask your reps if they carry book lines. Many publishers, such as Chronicle, Abrams, and Compendium, have a gift division offering a selection of books available through gift reps specifically for the purpose of cross-merchandising. The terms for these books may not be the same as those from book distributors: you might pay a little more or they might not be returnable—but you also don’t have to buy as many. And having a few gift and coffee table books in and among your gift merchandise will create diversity and visual interest.

Cross-merchandising can be just the boost you need to leverage your store and reinforce your brand. Effective displays involve more than just rearranging merchandise; they stimulate your customers’ imagination and generate sales. Think outside the box about what products might complement and display well together. Make your displays clean and to the point. Incorporate attractive signage to drive home your concept. Rotate your displays often, highlighting seasonal items with your signature products and everyday bestsellers, and watch your customers get excited and your sales increase. Happy merchandising!

Kim Perkins is co-owner of Elysian Fields Books & Gifts for Conscious Living (, an award-winning store located in Sarasota, Fla. Photography by Charlie Hagan